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Best of 2018

Best of 2018: Eric Edward Schell

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Continuing our Best of 2018 series, About Magazine would like to recognize, and introduce to those of you who may not know him, Eric Edward Schell, creator and director of Houston’s very own Pride Portraits.

(HOUSTON) — One of the largest issues that LGBTQIA communities have universally is that we’re plagued by issues that many within the community either don’t concern themselves with, or simply don’t take the time to do anything more than remain concerned about. Without outspoken voices and the activists at the forefront of rallies, marches, and campaigns who are their mouthpieces, the community likely would be much further behind than we are today. And while we still have a long way to go, it’s no question that our progress is a shining light at the end of a very dark tunnel. That progress is with thanks to people in our community like Houston’s very own Eric Edward Schell, creator, director, and photographer of the Pride Portraits campaign.

Founded nearly three years ago in June of 2016, Pride Portraits is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that began as the brain child of Schell, who began and continues the campaign to promote visibility to the world’s LGBTQIA community through tasteful, iconic photographs captioned with the stories of those featured in them. In the last near-three years, the campaign has grown to national recognition, with photographs being featured in the Huffington PostHarper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, OutSmart Magazine, our very own About Magazine, and countless other publications. Pride Portraits has additionally been recognized (and even partnered with) Facebook, the Human Rights Campaign, NASA, Chevron, Equality Texas, the Montrose Center, and countless other organizations and companies. While many photographs taken feature local Texas LGBTQIA community heads such as former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, The Voice contestant Stephanie Rice, Pride Houston President and CEO Lo Roberts, and late activist Ray Hill, Schell has had the good fortune of showcasing celebrity LGBTQIA activists and allies such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, comedienne Kathy Griffin, music legend Melissa Ethridge, pop singer Lance Bass, Democratic senate nominee Beto O’Rourke, and countless others. By doing so, he has been able to reach the community far beyond just Houston’s inner-loop, making voices and stories heard internationally. But what’s more impressive about the work that Pride Portraits has done isn’t the number of celebrities that have graced Schell’s rainbow backdrop for one of these eye-catching and easily recognizable photographs, but the number of local LGBTQIA members of the community just like you and I. Frequently Schell hosts open photo shoots in his Historic First Ward studio where he invites the community to drop by, have their photos taken, and tell their stories of coming out, facing adversity, and what having Pride means to them.

Eric Edward Schell Pride Portraits Houston LGBTQIA Best of 2018

Schell taking Pride Portrait photographs.

But Eric Edward Schell is much more than just Pride Portraits — so much more, in fact. The San Francisco native spent a chunk of his life as a performing vocalist and living in New York City before taking on photography and Pride Portraits full-time. Since then, however, Schell has become one of Houston’s foremost outspoken advocates for the LGBTQIA community to which he belongs. In that time, an important part of his activism has not been just to the general LGBTQIA community, but to the marginalized peoples of it, such as POC and trans people who are often forgotten and not recognized in the activism of others. Schell and partner Crimson Jordan are avidly involved in the community and aligned with its various nonprofits and committees. Schell himself and Pride Portraits are actively involved with Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus, the AIDS Foundation Houston, Houston City Hall, Pride Center – San Antonio, PFLAG, and countless others. His work and tireless effort to bolster the community, fight for our rights, and improve our livelihood and wellbeing are insurmountable and unmatched by many. When asked about his work, Schell had this to say:

“The activism that I do inside Pride Portraits and individually is centered around my desire to uplift and affirm all sexualities and gender identities. Our community has a rich history filled with historical figures and people simply existing within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. We are all valid and we all deserve to be seen as who we truly are.”

Having people like Eric Edward Schell in the community is a necessary component to our continued successes, and even to the lessons we learn from our failures. In 2018, I personally watched Eric make his voice heard on countless topics — from the Jeff Sessions fiasco at El Tiempo to the trans military ban to the outrage over Drag Story Time and much more. In addition, I’ve watched him work tirelessly not just at Pride Portraits, but to instrumentally help bring to life the new (albeit since vandalized) Pride Wall to fruition in Houston’s Historic Heights, to engage with Pride Houston under its new leadership, and to actively search for and lift up community members whose voices often go unheard, especially those who are POC, trans, and nonbinary. With someone like Eric in our community — someone whose voice rings loud and clear and is heard by his peers that respect him — we are reminded that when we speak up, when we act out, and when we step away from our comfort zones, we are capable of not only initiating change, but making it on a much larger level than many of us would like to believe we’re capable of doing. Eric is, in my opinion, not just one of the best of 2018, but one of Houston’s finest community pillars who will be remembered long after he’s gone and will make waves in and out of our pool until then.

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Anthony Ramirez is the Editor in Chief of About Magazine + About News and its affiliate platforms.

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Best of 2018

Best of 2018: Lo Roberts

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Lo Roberts Pride Houston Houston LGBTQIA Best of 2018

Next up in our Best of 2018 series is the woman behind the fourth largest Pride Celebration in the nation — Pride Houston president and CEO, Lo Roberts.

(HOUSTON) — For the better part of three years, I had the pleasure of working with Pride Houston, Inc. as the volunteer committee chair. In that time, I made some of the best, strongest, and most long-lasting friendships I’ve made in my entire life. Mind you … those friendships were often punctuated by screaming matches and differences of opinion, but we always came back together in the end. From Pride Houston’s marketing director, Dan Cato, to its then-festival chairs, Cassidy LeBlanc and Monte Bachus, and countless others, I made some of the most supportive and wonderful friends a guy could ever ask for. But I’ll be real with you: when I got started on the production team of Pride Houston … it was kind of a disaster. There was, however, a light at the end of that messy tunnel made all the hard work that we as a team put into the celebration seem worthwhile. And after some leadership changes in 2017, that light at the end of tunnel became the first Black, queer woman president of Pride Houston in its entire forty year history.

That light’s name is Lo Roberts, and I’m quite happy — albeit, also biased — to say that she is one of those great friendships that made my time there an experience I’ll never forget. But that’s not why we decided to include her in our Best of 2018 series; her personal touch on my life isn’t enough to do that. What is enough, however, is the impact that she’s had on Houston’s LGBTQIA community in the time since and before she became president of this organization, and the work that she’s put into it in order to make it more inclusive, diverse, and representative of the community as a whole.

Lo Roberts Pride Houston Houston LGBTQIA Best of 2018When I met Lo Roberts, I was but a lowly volunteer (just kidding; there’s no such thing; that operation doesn’t work without each and every volunteer) and Lo was the volunteer coordinator at the time. I remember watching her in my very first volunteer orientation and knowing instantaneously that I not only wanted to be her friend, but I wanted to be her a little bit. Not like … in a Single White Female sort of way. That’d be awful. But I wanted to do what she did, and I wanted to do it well. So when I learned that Lo was being groomed to be the next president of Pride Houston and that her job was opening up, getting it was as simple as asking for it … and from there the rest is history.

What I watched happen with Lo over the next two years was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The woman who was quickly becoming one of my best friends was being elevated to what is arguably the highest office in Houston’s LGBTQIA community; she tackled a messy lawsuit with Pride’s former leadership with poise, grace, dignity, and without ever having to play dirty; she turned around an organization that was losing the trust of its community thanks to the aforementioned former leadership by making diversity and inclusivity focal points of Pride Houston’s 40th anniversary celebration; and she made her rounds throughout the community to rebuild bridges that had been burnt — some we thought irreparably — so that the community could become a place once again where infighting was dulled. Being the president of Pride Houston isn’t an easy job. It’s a thankless job; it’s a job that is 100% volunteerism and that comes without a paycheck; and it’s a job that takes up as much, if not more, time than whatever 9 to 5 job you’re already still working. But Lo Roberts’ work ethic, her dedication, and her love for the community are unmatched.

“If you know me, you know my favorite quote would have to be, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’.” And that is exactly what I have made my life’s mission. Pride Houston is supposed to be a true representation of the LGBTQIA community. I hope to continue to make this statement a reality for that representation. It is important to me to give those with little-to-no voice a platform to stand on. It is important that those people who live day-to-day have an outlet to let their pride flourish. We are all one community, one family, and one culture in combination. We can move mountains if we all work together. I hope that, in the future, when people think of Pride Houston, they can see a strong-knit community making waves for a better future for all that identify anywhere on the spectrum.”

Join us tonight at Guava Lamp for Pride Houston’s Theme & Logo Unveiling. The 2019 grand marshals will also be announced at that time.

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Best of 2018

Best of 2018: Morena Roas

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Morena Roas Houston Artist The Floor Is Yours Music LGBTQ Best of 2018

She’s been making music for years, but in 2018 she tackled a much bigger task: making sure that artists support other artists, especially so in the LGBTQ+ community. Meet the next in our Best of 2018 series, Morena Roas Da Artist.

(HOUSTON) — When it came time to make up this list of truly outstanding individuals from 2018, I must admit that there was a bit of a personal bias toward some of these people. That bias, however, doesn’t come from liking certain people in the LGBTQ+ community of Houston more than others, nor does it come from being better friends with some than others. Being the editor-in-chief of this magazine for the last year has simply put me in a position to meet, work with, and get to know some of the most incredible people in our community. And of all the incredible people I’ve met in the last year — and there have been many — one of the most important and outstanding has been a local musical gem that’s been spitting rhymes and melodies for longer than I’ve been writing professionally. Her name is Morena Roas, and she spent 2018 not just making music, but making a way for artists all around to shine in her spotlight and step into their own.

Morena Roas Houston Singer The Floor Is Yours MusicTo know Morena Roas is to know a pure heart. The singer-dancer-songwriter-producer-actress and well-rounded human being isn’t just out on the stage looking for to make a buck or garner a few fans — she’s out there to present to you other that talent she meets along the way. When I first met Roas, there was an instant connection, and not the kind that one comes by easily. It wasn’t the type of in-passing meet-and-greet that comes when you exchange pleasantries with another business person at a bar that a mutual friend introduces to you. Morena had then and continues to have something much more powerful in her arsenal than that: the ability to make everyone feel like the most important person in the world. While her music is important to her (as are her many other business ventures, including her clothing line Molly Nation), one will note that Roas leaves the passenger’s seat of her professional vehicle open to anyone serious about their work and along for the ride. So much so, in fact, that Roas has been the host and creator of the weekly Monday night open mic show at Guava Lamp on Waugh, The Floor Is Yours, which she co-hosts with friend and fellow musician J Metro. Every Monday, The Floor Is Yours features and spotlights one booked artist while allowing talent from all around the city of Houston take to the stage to sing, run stand-up routines, read poetry, and more.

But Morena’s repertoire is packed with much more than just one show. This past holiday season, the artist released a Christmas album just in time for winter, entitled, My Very Merry 1st Christmas, which featured arrangements and renditions of classic holiday songs, original music, and a feature with fellow musician and Houston local, Stoo. Following the release of her album and just days after Christmas, Roas produced and hosted the Xmas Aftermath concert at Elevate Lounge in Houston’s Historic Third Ward. The local cigar and hookah lounge transformed for one night into a dynamic and colorful concert of some of Houston’s finest artists. Acts included Shawn Anthony, former American Idol contestant Vincent Powell, raspy rocker Josie Arias, The Floor Is Yours co-host J Metro, Pride SuperStar finalist Mark Wilburnand many others. Punctuating the evening of Christmas music, soulful covers, and exquisite original numbers came Morena Roas performing songs from her Christmas collection, as well as a new, original hip-hop song that had the audience on its feet, shouting lyrics back at the singer, and dancing with her. Watching Morena on stage is a bit like staring a piece of fine art — albeit, a very loud, filterless, mouthy piece of art. Sometimes she takes a minute to complete soak up; sometimes she’s so colorful that it can be hard to fixate correctly one particular thing about her; and sometimes she’s so abstract that her goodness can be overwhelming in all the ways that it radiates out of her. But that’s what makes up Morena — pure goodness. It translates into everything that she does and doesn’t stop at her music. This past September, Morena took part in a live reading of my own sitcom, The Anthony Project, at Rich’s Houston, where she read a part written for her, Sofia Garcia. The character, like Morena, is an aspiring musician and best friend of the titular character as they work at a fictional version of About Magazine. But singing, acting — she’s good at it all, and she’s more than just an artist … she’s an artist who is taking everyone else to the top on her way there. She stands for artists; she stands for Houston; she stands for the LGBTQ+ community; and she’s not going anywhere any time soon.

You can follow Morena Roas Da Artist here, where you can also reach out to get your copy of the album:

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Best of 2018

Best of 2018: Regina Blake-DuBois

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Regina Blake-DuBois Miss Gay Texas America Broad’s Way Drag LGBTQ

Miss Gay Texas America 2018, Regina Blake-DuBois, seemed to catapult into the spotlight during 2018; but her efforts to become a drag icon have not resulted without their share of hard work, LGBTQ community care, and the attitude of a true triumph. Meet our next Best of 2018 spotlight.

(HOUSTON) — I remember the first time I ever saw Regina Blake-DuBois perform: I was going through a break-up and stumbling around Montrose from bar-to-bar looking for anything to take my mind off of my heartbroken blues. My last stop of the night was to see who was hanging around Michael’s Outpost — I think I might have been looking for a guy that I’d made out with there once — and found myself watching a drag and live singing Broadway revue featuring the incomparable Scott Lupton, Chaney Moore, Richard Long, Mia Opulent-Love, and its star Regina Blake DuBois. It was my first time seeing The Broad’s Way at the piano bar on the outskirts of Montrose almost a year ago; and from that night on, I couldn’t stop thinking about the magic that was Regina Blake-DuBois. I did not find the man I was looking for, but instead something much more unexpected and delightful just before curtain: Regina Blake-DuBois performing a drag number to one of my favorite show-stopping, Broadway numbers: “So Much Better” from Legally Blonde: The Musical. As I watched her personify Elle Woods in that simple pink dress and blonde wig, give the famous high kick during the line, “I’ll even dress in black and white. / See, I have not begun to fight.”, and round out the number with a Laura Bell Bundy-esque, arms-out, back arched, gaping mouth give of the song’s very last, very long note, I was sold. Regina Blake-DuBois was someone I wanted to know; and if only I’d known at the time — although I expected it would come eventually — that the young performer would go on to do the things in 2018 that were nothing short of incredible that she did, I might not have believed I’d not only get to work with her, but befriend her.

Regina Blake-DuBois Miss Gay Texas America Broad’s Way Drag LGBTQ“I’m not gonna take up much of your time,” I lied at the beginning of our near-hour-long conversation. Regina was driving back from Dallas where she’d been visiting family on a rare vacation in her ever-busy work schedule. It’s no surprise that vacations are such a rare occasion for her; aside from performing gigs around the city (and beyond as her career gets increasingly jam-packed after taking the crown of Miss Gay Texas America), Blake-DuBois also serves as show director, star, and creator of the weekly, aforementioned Broad’s Way at Michael’s Outpost every Monday night. I wanted to begin our conversation discussing the latter, which is going into its second year very soon. While the cast and format have seen changes in that time, one thing remains true about the show: it never stops getting better.

“I’ve learned how to run the show really smoothly, the cast has learned how to work the audience well, while the audience has learned what to expect from the show […] even with all the changes,” Blake-DuBois told me on her drive back to Houston. “We’ve gone from being a slow night […] you know with only twenty people in the audience […] to being a standing room only show.” That much could be vouched for not just by regulars of Michael’s Outpost, but by anyone who’d stumbled into the show, even if by accident. In the time since I’d seen The Broad’s Way since that first experience in February of 2018, the times I’d stumbled into the bar have been met with audience members there for the second, third, (et al) time where it was hard to find a seat at the bar … let alone a table for yourself to get a front-row seat. It’s no wonder that people continuously come back to see more. The performers in the show are not newcomers to the stage, but instead people that have worked with Regina before, all of them even having performed in The Broad’s Way before. They’re experienced, they’re talented, and they know what their audiences want to see not only from that week’s theme, but from a show that brings a musical take on drag and live singing to a cabaret-like setting. This isn’t some hellhole, Montrose-adjacent black box where Regina Blake DuBois is having to pander for audiences, but rather a show that started humbly and has organically grown an audience because it truly is unique and one-of-a-kind. Speaking of her cast, Regina said, “[The performers] have great instincts, and surprise me with what they bring […] It feels natural; and every single person brings something different to the stage. I think that Roofie DuBois is one of the most wonderful queens in Houston right now. Having her on our cast is amazing. […] I’ve seen her go out and do a beautiful ballad, and then go out and do a song about boobs from a musical I didn’t even know existed.” The most recent addition to the cast, which was announced at the special New Year’s show of The Broad’s Way, includes Carmina Vavra — the drag queen that recently competed in and made it to the finals of Dessie’s Drag Race season 15 at Rich’s Houston.

But The Broad’s Way — while amongst her most esteemed — is only one of Regina Blake-DuBois’s accomplishments. This past summer in July, Regina was crowned the 2018 winner of the Miss Gay Texas America pageant, an honor that is not taken lightly in the drag community. The two most mainstream circuits of drag pageants include the America and USofA systems; Blake-DuBois belongs to the former; but both are met with rigorous, grueling, and expensive trials to see through and triumph over if one wishes to take the crown. The crown is nothing short of what is in its name: the winners are nearly guaranteed more bookings, bigger audiences, and renown amongst members of the LGBTQ+ community. What makes Regina even more of a prodigy in her arena of the America circuit is the fact that she alone is the youngest participant to ever take the title of Miss Gay Texas America in its forty-four year history.

Regina doesn’t think that she’d have made it quite this far if not for the drag family that adopted her. Just over a year ago, Houston drag royalty, Dessie Love-Blake — who was crowned herself as Miss Gay Texas America in 2014– took Regina under her wing as her drag daughter. Regina says of Dessie, “She’s constantly growing and developing and coming up with new concepts for herself […] I look at her and I think, If she can do it, I can do it. And that’s because I see how much work it takes, how much commitment it takes, and I strive to have that same level of passion in my direction.” Blake-DuBois and I chatted for a while about what it’s been like to be the drag daughter of one of Houston’s finest, and it came up that there are always going to be those with negative commentaries about it, who believe that Regina is molding herself into the next Dessie. But what seems to be most important to remember is that Dessie — who even now is at the peak of her career — and Regina are two different performers entirely; while both are glamorous and mistresses of their craft, they know their own individualities, and they each own those to the fullest and most exciting extents. Regina lamented, however, about Dessie and what a powerhouse she is, and also noted that the first time she really felt like she had earned her status as Miss Gay Texas America was when she was performing a show with Love-Blake and 2012 Miss Gay Texas America, Kara Dion, and they greeted her as their ‘sister’. When discussing how she wants to represent the LGBTQ community as Miss Gay Texas America, she states, “I want to bring positivity into my drag; I want to be the best symbol of excellence — the best Miss Gay Texas I can possibly be. Since getting the crown, I’ve done everything I can to live up to my expectation and to the expectations of everyone around me.” And if nothing else speaks to that, it’s just how hard Regina works toward her goals. On and off stage, the young star is always spreading a positive message. She isn’t the type to perpetuate the infighting and internalized homophobia that can often accompany LGBTQ performances. Regina Blake-DuBois is a beacon and one that people can’t help but stare into, even if it blinds them temporarily.

Regina Blake-DuBois Miss Gay Texas America Broad’s Way Drag LGBTQAside from her crown and her weekly show, Regina Blake-DuBois has kept her schedule packed. Most days of the week, you can find her performing at various bars around the city. But in the latter half of the year, Regina took back to the stage — the place where she first found herself as a performer. In September of 2018, Regina read for the role of Jackie Ferguson in the About Magazine production of its very first ever sitcom (written by yours truly), The Anthony Project. Jackie is an unaging receptionist who is employed at a fictional version of About Magazine, but who brings light to serious situations at the most unexpected times. Regina’s performance was not only well received, but was noted by most viewers as one of the best in the entire cast during the live table read of the first four episodes of the show at Rich’s Houston. This winter, Regina also showed off her acting chops by getting back into musical theatre when she appeared in a production of A Drag Christmas Carol at the Obsidian Theatre, written by Rhett Martinez and co-directed by Kelsey McMillan and Tom Schell (the latter who co-starred with Blake-DuBois). The show received generally positive reviews; but — like with any production — was not without its share of critics. Regina shrugged this off though, stating — to which I agreed — that you aren’t doing something right if you’re universally liked by everyone. Performing in a musical reminded Blake-DuBois of why she began performing in the first place; it resonated within her something that she’d always wanted to do but was scared she might not have what it took to do it. Though, as a fan and a friend, it’s easy to say that there’s nothing that Regina Blake-DuBois can’t do when she sets her mind to it. That includes, of course, competing to someday be Miss Gay America.

“Going through Miss Gay Texas made me aware that Miss Gay America isn’t something i want to get one day … it’s something i will get.”

She states that going through the process of pageantry in 2018 only made her more aware of what she is capable of doing and how she’s going to make that happen. But Regina is aware that it’s something she’s going to need a hiatus from before jump backing into the pageant circuit. She doesn’t put a time cap on her sabbatical, as she’s way too busy with her many projects to come and her duties as Miss Gay Texas America in the present. But she knows that with a certain set of learned skills and the chutzpah she never seems to lose, she’s going to take the crown and the crowd by storm. After all, being the youngest Miss Gay Texas America, she’s got nothing but time before competing for an even higher honor. But right now, as far as I’m concerned, Regina Blake DuBois — a queen if there ever was one — isn’t slowing down, and her inspiring ways are only spreading. She’s nothing short of an inspiration, nothing short of a pinnacle, and nothing short of full of surprises in 2019. “If someone can look at me and say, ‘Oh, look at that — a man in a dress. I can go out and do something’, that’ll be the best thing for me … to know that I was able to help do that for someone.”

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Best of 2018

Best of 2018: Michael Chiavone

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Best of 2018 Michael Chiavone Singer Houston Gay

Kicking off About Magazine’s Best of 2018 spread is none other than Mr. Gay Houston 2018 himself, singer and stage champion, Michael Chiavone.

“Hi, my name is Michael Chiavone; and I’m your reigning Mr. Gay Houston 2018 — which is just a way of saying that I’m so gay … I’ve won awards for it.” That’s the sort of trademark humor you can expect from a personality like Michael Chiavone — funny, a tad bit shocking, and loveably (albeit relatably) self-deprecating. The crowd at Barcode (located at 817 Fairview, where Chiavone hosts a karaoke show every Thursday) couldn’t help but laugh. The night was early and karaoke patrons were just beginning to straggle in, which left Chiavone with the opportunity to do what he does best: showcase his own talents. In his own words, “I’m just a homo who likes to sing.” He’s kidding … except that it’s not totally untrue. The 28-year-old Houston native began performing at a young age, navigating the realm of musical theatre, which he later studied in college. While talking to him in the dressing room at Barcode, Michael shared how he always knew he wanted to perform. “I was always that kid who put on shows in the garage and sang for his family at Christmas. I was always very much that gay kid.” He was teasing, but there’s nothing insincere in his story. When Chiavone realized that singing was something he could make a living out of, it set him down a path — one he continues to forge today.

Best of 2018 Michael Chiavone Singer Houston GayIn the last eight years that he’s been performing locally, Michael’s interests have steered away from musical theatre and concert performance. He recounted with me that toward the endings of his musical theatre days, what he found himself enjoying most wasn’t playing characters … but playing himself. “It’s really fun playing a character on stage; but when you are being yourself, and someone comes up and tells you that they enjoy what you did or that you’re really funny when you were just being yourself, that feels good.” And Michael Chiavone is nothing if not just that: himself. On the mic he’s neither bashful nor restrained. As his diaphragm supports a voice — whether while speaking or singing — that audiences turn for, he knows how to read a room to know what is and is not working in his favor. Nevertheless, whether someone does or does not like it, they’re getting exactly what they’ve been promised: Michael.

Acknowledging this piece of what he wanted to do and who he wanted to be as a performer, the compass of Michael’s heart led him in a different direction. “I haven’t been in a show in almost … twoooo years,” he thought aloud, “So I enjoy going out and singing at the bars.” As an out gay man, someone just as much a part of Montrose as the rest of us, bar culture and working in bars gave him new opportunities. Throughout his twenties, Michael befriended many people throughout Houston’s gay community, including drag queens, whom he’d eventually begin helping prepare to compete in pageants.

Best of 2018 Michael Chiavone Singer Houston Gay“I used to swear up-and-down that I wouldn’t do pageants — I didn’t like male pageants. And somehow in helping all these drag queens do them […] I am caught up in them.” Whether it’s where he expected to find himself or not, pageantry as of late has been kind to Chiavone. Or maybe that statement is undermining all the work that he’s put into these pageants, which are not for the faint of heart, nor for those without the drive to put the effort into them. For the queer community (which can include drag queens, drag kings, or simply cisgender performers such as Chiavone), there are two large, national pageant circuits: Miss/Mr. Gay America and Miss/Mr. Gay USofA. Within each of those there is a spectrum of subcategories (USofA has “MI”, “Diva”, and “Classic”, so on and so forth and is broken down above that by state; America is also broken down by state with its own smaller set of categories). The differentiations of these two circuits and their breakdowns are a bit convoluted. Chiavone, however currently holds two titles in the America circuit: Mr. Gay Houston America 2018 and Mr. Gay Lone Star America 2019, meaning his pageantry isn’t over just yet.

“I’m in an interesting transition period right now with what I do,” Chiavone shared as we talked more about how he tackled the pageants with a very specific vision that was entirely of his own creation. The young man who stated he started off never wanting to do pageants then began pageants wanting only to sing has now elevated himself into numbers incorporating dance and costumes. “I’m branching out into becoming a more ‘traditional’ male entertainer, as opposed to what I normally do. […] It’s important to show your versatility.” As far as his talent expanding and improving, Chiavone is constantly working on improving his craft, knowing full and well that he holds a large responsibility on his shoulders. After all, there hasn’t been a Mr. Gay Houston America in quite some time. In his time since winning that title alone, Chiavone has been given the opportunities to sing on the main stage of Pride Houston, judge a round of the nonprofit’s singing competition, Pride SuperStar, and has appeared in various benefits and drag shows as a live vocalist across the city.

Where he goes next is at the forefront of Michael’s mind. “At first, I thought I just wanted to be Mr. Houston; but when I went to compete at state, I realized that I really, really want to be Mr. Texas.” At that time, Chiavone was awarded third alternate (or fourth place) as well as Mr. Congeniality. “No one was more surprised by that than I was. […] You would have that I’d won the whole pageant by my reaction.” The two of us laughed at this for a while, knowing how tensions rise in competitive atmospheres and what it’s like to speak without a filter. But getting to the top five of the competition galvanized Chiavone into his preparedness to take the state title. He’s wanting to spend his time at all of the preliminary pageants to perform and see who he’ll be competing against. Pageants aside, Chiavone’s aspirations are still in the realm of entertainment. He and best friend/drag queen Hu’Nee B are planning to begin production on an queer podcast entitled The Texas Tea with Michael and B. Beyond the local level, Chiavone wants to move forward into being Mr. Gay America, Mr. Gay USofA, and Mr. Continental. “And honestly, with those titles, [sighs] I just want to be booked to sing on gay cruises until the day I die.” The young performer idolizes Neil Patrick Harris, wanting to host and emcee events, take the Broadway stage someday, and use his pageant titles as a vehicle to make these dreams come true.

“Because honestly … if you can be gay famous, you can do anything.”


You can find Michael Chiavone co-hosting karaoke with Kara Dion and Ty Frazier on Wednesday nights at Guava Lamp, as well as Thursday nights hosting Magic Mike at Barcode. Follow him on Facebook to see upcoming performances outside his regular gigs here.

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